Stargrunt II | Fortified Niche playtest!

A shot from Soldier (1997) with Stargrunt II tokens and title added

Here’s an idea for you: you can play a game that has but a single book released for it. There’s nothing stopping you. A game doesn’t have to have expansions coming out every few months. Just play what you have. Play Stargrunt II from 1996.

Listen to the Fortified Niche episode.

Stargrunt II TTS screenshot: a Stargrunt II table separated into urban and wooded parts.
Stargrunt II by Ground Zero Games and Jon Tuffley (but I repeat myself) takes military wargaming to the near future. Poor Bloody Infantry still rule the day, skirmishing in platoon- and company-level actions. They may have electronic warfare specialists, recon drones (ooh, timely), gauss rifles and power armor support, but they’re still lads with guns.
Stargrunt II TTS screenshot: a unit with some wounded and dead troopers cowers in ruins.
So, all fighters in Stargrunt II are unmodified humans, which makes basic stats all the same. And while the weapon mixture does have a say in the proceedings, unit quality and leadership matters even more. They are represented on the table with a chit of appropriate color (for training) and number (for leadership). A unit will also be accompanied with a chit marking their morale level.
Stargrunt II TTS screenshot: some cops face off against a unit of actual troops. Significant chit involvement.
No way around it: Stargrunt II loves chits. They mark mines, missile expenditure, hidden troops (or dummies), and so on. On TTS, it looks charming. On tabletop, some people may find it annoying. You’re also incentivized to fill in stat cards for your units so you wouldn’t have to constantly look up which squad has what – and that’s another thing to keep on the table.
Stagrunt II TTS screenshot: a wooded deployment area. One vehicle (upscaled DZC model) is on fire.
Most tests in the game are resolved either rolling 2+ dice vs. 1 dice (when opposed) or a single dice vs. leadership (probably the only unopposed test I remember). The weirdest part? Determining the results of a hit. If only one of the firer’s dice was successful, the target is merely suppressed. If two of more were successful, you sum up the die results and then divide them by the the range die type defender used for their roll. Then you arrive at the number of hits dealt. This is followed by another roll-off: attacker’s impact dice vs. target’s armor, with results beating the armor causing WIA and those over double the armor score scoring kills. It’s clunky, sure, but it removes the need for tables, or additional weapon stats, makes wipeouts via regular shooting less likely, and encourages closing in and flanking.
Stargrunt II TTS screenshot: the deployment edge with a vehicle on fire, and others moving in. Smoke templates can be seen.
Another cool feature of Stargrunt II is that vehicle rules are largely the same as for infantry – this is not a rivet counter game. The biggest difference is that they come with the closest thing the game has to a point-buy system: the vehicle’s size determines how much stuff you can cram in it. This both provides guidance for the GMs setting up forces and prevents any instances of titan-killing Vespas.
Stargrunt II TTS screenshot: Three guys and three tokens crammed into the top floor of a tower.
That’s right, Stargrunt II doesn’t have a point-buy or army-building section. Moreover, the game encourages having a GM set up scenarios for you. This is because it also argues that it’s really hard to put balanced point value on troop effectiveness. So much depends on the scenario: a soldier with jungle training should probably worth much less if he’s fighting on an icy plain. I agree with that argument – I know you’re all shocked. But such a pointless system is only workable for a GM’d game. And as I experienced, it’s actually fun to be the GM!
Stargrunt II TTS screenshot: the playtest scenario table in all its glory, including my troops dispositions that had been hidden from Cassa.
Stargrunt II is a modern-feeling blast from the past. The game’s pushing thirty, but features a lot of mechanics you’d love to see in a game in 2024. Well, as we say on the podcast, with another editing pass…

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